Friday, February 29, 2008

UNSOLVED HISTORY - Roswell (Partial Review)

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 2002-2005
A.K.A. UFOs Over America

Unsolved History takes a scientific look at three UFO events: the original Kenneth Arnold sighting, the Captain Mantel crash, and Roswell.  I came in late on this broadcast, so I'll summarize the parts I didn't see based on the show's recap and my previous viewing.  Based on a recreation, the show concludes that the Arnold sighting could not have occurred at the speed or altitude that Arnold thought, and that at least part of his sighting may have been caused by reflections in the cockpit windows.  (Have you ever seen a reflection in a car window and thought it to be something in the sky?  I have.)  Sorry I don't have full details on that one.  The Captain Mantell UFO sighting and crash is recreated using a period airplane and special effects technology.  The recreation, using a model of a skyhook balloon, suggests that the captain could have easily mistaken a high-flying balloon for a disc-shaped object much closer to his craft.  The captain then climbed higher than he should have and, without a proper oxygen supply, passed out and crashed.  Finally, the show looks at the Roswell story concerning both the crash and the alien bodies, positing that over time, memories could have been distorted and perhaps combined (as suggested in the military's report).  The experiment that follows subjects unsuspecting witnesses (who believe they're on a high-tech nature walk) to a fake UFO crash site, complete with yellow tape and military guards.  Each participant is equipped with a helmet camera, so the scientists can determine what each observer actually saw and when.  The scientists then collect the data and, a month later, interview the witnesses.  And what they discover is striking: even after just a month, the witness testimonies are highly inaccurate and seem to have been heavily influenced not only by what the other witnesses initially said they saw, but by preconceived ideas of what a UFO crash site incident should be like.  Some subjects even swear to events that never happened and claim to have seen things their helmet cams show they didn't see.  The implications for Roswell -- where the incident turned from a balloon crash (after initial UFO reports) in 1947 into a UFO legend with bodies and a government cover up in 1980 (more than 30 years later) -- are obvious.  If witnesses are unreliable after 1 month, how reliable can they be after (now) 60 years?  Recent research (see the Radio Lab podcast) suggests that memories are subject to change every time we recall them.  That fact and this recreation make it seem obvious that the simplest explanation for the so-called Roswell Incident is the one offered by 1990s Air Force report: a classified balloon crash and subsequent tests with "witness" memories distorted by time.  Thus is born a legend.

UNSOLVED HISTORY - The Bermuda Triangle

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 2002-2005
A.K.A. Diving to the Bermuda Triangle

Another intriguing entry in the Unsolved History paranormal investigation series. One theory that might explain some of the disappearances is a sudden bubbling up of methane gas "frozen" in the bottom of the deep trenches within the Triangle. Experiments on this show prove both that large bubbles from the deep can sink ships and that methane clouds can confuse airplane instruments, which use pressure to determine altitude. They also prove that methane can also cause airplane engines to stall out. So, while there are no confirmed methane-caused sinkings or crashes, the theory does fit the MO of many Triangle disappearances. The show also investigate the mystery of Flight 19, and discovers 5 Avengers (the type of missing planes) on the bottom of the sea -- though these planes turn out to not be from the flight. (Though the show doesn't mention it, I believe the planes were later discovered to be part of a Navy dumping program -- though I don't have a concrete reference for that currently.) All in all, this show is a good presentation of a "natural" theory that might explain the Triangle disappearnces -- though most skeptics still believe the Triangle has no statistical significance.

UFO HUNTERS - Hist. - Military vs. UFOs

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/27/09

Well, my normal uncanny programs took Wednesday night off, so -- despite a previous vow -- I found myself tuning in to History's UFO Hunters again. The case this week was about the Rendlesham Forest UFO sightings in England, back in 1980 (another "cold" case, almost 30 years old). Yet, as usual, this is exactly the kind of case this show wants to investigate; with the fog of time clouding memories, it's much easier to buy into the UFO myths than to actually investigate. And, as usual, these folks don't investigate what the UFOs were; they already know what they were -- UFOs are intelligently controlled alien craft that have been visiting earth for years and whose existence is being covered up by the government. With that as a premise (the given "facts" of the "investigation"), there are only two things for the group to do: 1) they can talk to witnesses, or descendants of witnesses (they do), and 2) they can try to disprove the skeptical theories about the sightings. The witness testimony is interesting and compelling this time, including several highly credible witnesses with incredible stories. There's also a forester presented as a counter witness -- he thinks the UFO "tracks" are rabbit made -- but his opinions are quickly discounted. (After all, he doesn't support the theory that UFOs exist and are controlled by aliens.) The highlight of this show is a recreation of a skeptical explanation of the encounter. Skeptics have posited that a nearby lighthouse might have been responsible for the Rendlesham lights. The crew sets up an elaborate scale model of the area in their base and proves that the lighthouse "couldn't" have been responsible. Then they discover a witness who tells them that the landward side of the lite has always been shielded anyway; it can only shine out to sea. (They could have saved a lot of time and money making that model if they'd talked to this witness first.) So, hurray! They've disproved a skeptical theory, and the team leader (the publisher of UFO Magazine) declares the "investigation" a success. But, as usual, they haven't actually proven anything. They have witness testimony, but no actual evidence to support the existence of UFOs or their theory that UFOs are craft controlled by aliens. Of course, they don't need any proof, because they've already bought in to their own premise. I've seldom seen anyone so proud of accomplishing so little. Again, this is not an investigation show, it's a mythbuilding show. So, if you buy into their premise, you'll probably enjoy it. As for me, I'll keep hoping for better science. (And if you want to see how reliable eyewitnesses are in this kind of case, see Unsolved History's UFO show - reviewed elsewhere in this blog.)

Monday, February 25, 2008


Discover Channel -- Original Air Date: 2003

A good survey of the Lake Champlain monster, often known as Champ.  This show features witnesses, lake experts, and skeptics in a good mix.  The skeptics recreate the most famous of the Champ photos, and revise the size estimate down from 6 feet tall to 3, which -- the skeptics point out -- does not mean it's not a monster; it just means the object in the photo isn't as large as the photographer thought.  The show also features a number of videos which, as always, are maddeningly fuzzy but claim to show the monster.  A sonar survey of the lake turns up no monsters, but plenty of places where a monster might hide.  Perhaps the most interesting result is the underwater sounds expert who finds what seems to be a sonar click - though no animals in the lake are known to use sonar for navigation or hunting.  The conclusion is summed up by a searcher who notes that unless you drain the whole lake, you can never prove that the monster doesn't exist.


Discovery Channel (Wild Discovery) - Original Air Date: January 9, 2003

This show brings an impressive variety of scientific tests and experts to the question of whether or not bigfoot is real. In the show, they make you wait until the end to find out the conclusions, but cataloging conclusions is what this column is about. The finger print expert opines that the dermal ridges suggest that a non-human great ape is living in North America. The Memorial Day Footage crew, using survey equipment and a world-class runner concludes that the creature in the film is man sized, with a man-like stride, and moving well within human norms (about half as fast as the sprinter). The Freeman footage suggests a large creature, but no conclusion on whether this is real or fake. The sonic cry analysis suggests in might be human or from a primate. Hair sequencing comes out human or near human. Footprint analysis suggests a distribution of sizes suggestive of a living population. A cast expert believes the Skookum print is from an unknown hominid primate. And CGI recreation of the Patterson film suggests the subject is non-human. This last conclusion makes me wonder about the others, as the "muscle anomaly" pointed out by the expert on the thigh of the Patterson film looks more like a "suit malfunction" to me. (A patch of fur coming loose.) Also, the CGI suggestion that the stride is non-human is at odds with evidence from Is It Real? (and other sources) showing not only is the stride possible for a human, but that there is a specific human with that stride--Bob Heironimus. So, while individually the science seems sound enough, perhaps it would have been better to examine fewer aspects of the phenomenon--or expand the show from one hour to two and bring more than one expert to bear on some of the subjects. The Memorial Day Footage had a whole team of relevant experts, whereas the Patterson footage team was so diverse as to have little overlap for checking of conclusions. (One doing CGI, one checking on the movement & muscle anatomy, etc...)

Sunday, February 24, 2008


National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: Unknown

This show carefully examines the conspiracy theories regarding whether the Apollo astronauts actually landed on the moon.  Conspiracy theorists insist that the landings were a hoax, and they have all manner of "evidence" to prove it.  Evidence includes "anomalies" in existing moon photos, and theories as to what would "actually" happen on the moon, if people had really landed there: for instance,according to theorists, the LEM's rocket system should have dug a crater in the moon dust.  The show looks at the theorists claims one by one, and thoroughly debunks them.  Largely, the people proposing the theories have neither the scientific nor the photographic expertise to know what they're talking about.  This show proves that the theorists' "common sense" approach to what should happen on the moon is just not sensible, and it proves this time and time and time again.  Yet, the theorists hold to their theories, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Mystery hunters of all stripes -- cryptozoologists, UFO hunters, ghost busters -- should take note; when you stubbornly hold to your beliefs despite the facts, you harm both your own reputation and that of others in your field.  Ignore the facts enough times, and soon you'll have no more credibility than the people who insist that astronauts never landed on the moon.  All investigators would do well to remember Occam's Razor: All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best.

Friday, February 22, 2008

UFOS OVER PHOENIX - Partial Review

Discovery Channel - Original Air Date: 1997?

I just caught a few minutes of this recently, though I've seen the full show in the past. The part I saw that's worth noting is the show's dramatic and convincing explanation for the 10pm (I believe) set of Phoenix Lights: they were flares. UFOlogists reject this idea out of hand, but the show has a demonstration that the "winking out" of the lights coincides with them disappearing behind a mountain range. This is accomplished by aligning the original "UFO" footage with daytime footage taken in the same spot. You can literally see the lights going behind the mountain--which means they weren't over the city, but were on the other side of the range, where the military was conducting exercises (and dropping flares). I don't remember whether the show had an explanation for the earlier sightings of V-shaped craft (probably not), but the footage you always see of this incident -- on Larry King, for instance -- is definitely flares. UFOlogists don't do themselves any favors when they ignore conclusive proof like this; it makes them look like kooks. It also wastes time and resources that could be spent on investigating actual, unexplained incidents.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


History Channel - Original Air Date: 2007-8

Another good entry in the Monster Quest series, this examines stories of giant birds in the US from the pioneer days to the present.  Fossil records show that ancient birds were perhaps twice the size of today's largest raptors.  Pterosaurs grew even larger.  There is no evidence, though, of such birds -- or dinosaurs -- surviving into the modern era.  There are, however eyewitness accounts.  And there is at least one tantalizing film.  Experts dispute whether the film shows a known animal (turkey vulture) or something much larger.  One of the most valuable aspects of this show is its study of how people perceive objects in the sky--often believing flying objects to be much larger than they actually are.  This is demonstrated with a large bird kite (24 foot wingspan - flown at 300 feet), which witnesses are unable to accurately estimate the size of (most think it's much larger than it actually is).  Even pilots, the show implies, can make such mistakes.  The sky just doesn't have proper references to judge sizes.  (This same problem applies to UFO sightings.)  Some African eagles are known to prey on primates (monkeys), and experts speculate that a fear of large birds may be hard-wired into human evolution.  It seems unlikely that a huge unknown bird is alive today, but people are still seeing something.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

UFO HUNTERS - Hist. - Crash & Retrieval

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/20/08

Having watched this show since it's inception, I can now say definitively that it is a show by true believers for true believers. Wikipedia tells me it's a spin off of the History Channel show UFO Files, and I can believe that. Both shows are long on story, and while they pretend to conduct investigations, they're dreadfully short on science or the scientific method. Frankly, at this point I fell sorry for Ted, the show's scientist; clearly he doesn't belong here, and they never listen to him anyway. The group's leader, Bill, becomes more Hunter S. Thomson like with every episode. He expounds loudly on absurd theories and shouts down people with opposing opinions. This show doesn't have facts, it has speculation piled on speculation piled on speculation, with virtually no evidence at all to back up any of it. This week, they're investigating "UFO crashes" in Mexico, one in 2007-- described by witnesses as a "fireball" (which last I knew, was an astronomical event) -- and one that's known as "Mexico's Roswell" and is decades old. So the team wanders around the desert, collects some nondescript ash, sees what may be plane wreckage, and finds an "unusual" hole in the ground (that the show speculates may have been used to dispose of nuclear or biological weapons). They take samples and find . . . traces of motor oil or perhaps other petroleum compounds. Team leader Bill speculates that these compounds were used to blow up UFO debris. That makes as much sense as anything else in this show. The premise of History Channel's UFO Hunters is that UFOs are alien craft from other worlds and the governments of our world are covering up that fact. Any evidence that doesn't support those premises is summarily dismissed. There's a two word phrase for the stories this show presents every week, and the first word of that phrase is "horse." Like UFO Files, this version of UFO Hunters has now pushed my "bunk meter" to its limits. I'm removing it from my DVR and will watch it only when nothing else is on--and then only if I'm in the mood to be ticked off. I hope the SciFi show wins the war for the show's title, though it remains to be seen whether that show will be better in the long run. As for me, I think I'll watch an episode of Is It Real? to wash the bad taste of this turkey out of my mouth.

IS IT REAL? Bigfoot

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005-6

This is the show that inspired me to start this catalog of shows on the uncanny. While this episode doesn't reach any final conclusion on bigfoot (both sides have good arguments), it does present one of the best argument's I've seen for the Patterson bigfoot film being a fake: it has the man who claims to have worn the suit, Bob Heironimus. I've heard some believers say that Bob's confession is flawed and inconsistent with "facts." I'm not going to study this case as if it were the Zapruder film. I can tell you this, though, Bob walks the bigfoot walk from the film. He has the same gait that many so-called researchers have declared "inhuman." Just watch the clips presented here. He ain't trying to be non-human; it's just the way he walks. Everyone who thinks the Patterson film is real needs to see that footage. (And now, thanks to Howls & Growls, you know where to find it -- and so do I.) Also in this show is a woman who claims to have a longstanding relationship with a tribe of bigfoots -- a kind of sasquatch Diane Fosse. Probably, she's a kook, but it might be worth following her around with a hidden camera for a couple of months to find out. We also get a scientist that shows you how to make fake bigfoot prints of your own -- complete with convincing dermal ridges. Overall, this IIR episode a good, serious look at bigfoot and the phenomena that surround one of the most famous of the crypto-zoo creatures. There are definitely bigfoot hoaxers, like Patterson and footprint maker Ray Wallace, but there could still be something out there. Perhaps time and serious science will finally tell.

Addendum: I just discovered this stabilized version of the Patterson Film online. Funny how with the shakes removed, it seems more obviously a man in a suit -- at least to me

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

SCARY BUT TRUE - Agnes, Room 347, Bodie's Curse

SciFi - Original Air Date: 2006? Fox Reality

It's beginning to astound me how many of these shows there are.  It seems like every week, I'm flipping channels and I run into one I've never seen before.  Agnes was supposedly walled up in an old mansion that's now a Catholic boarding school.  When one of the students spends the night "alone" in the school, the school bell (unplugged) mysteriously rings, waking her in the night.  (Perhaps it was one of the cameramen or production assistants who were filming the girl while she was "alone.")  In the second story, Room 347, a boy claims to have seen a ghost when he was 4 years old.  HIs mom is shocked to learn that the ghost is known to the hotel staff.  The third story features two teens taking some items from haunted Bodie, California.  Then bad things start happening to them, like aches and pains, rashes, and failing school tests they didn't know were coming.  So they send the items back.  Again, the proof for these "true" stories is about the same as that for true stories told around a campfire.  But at least they're not using bad science to prove their case.  If you want to hear a few creepy tales, this show is harmless enough.

Fwd: SCARY BUT TRUE - Lighthouse, Ala. Sea Serpent, Dead Girl

SciFi - Original Air Date: 2006? Fox Reality

If you've been reading any of these reviews, you know that I'm not generally fond of shows that purport to be "true," and then have bad science to support their "facts."  Not quite so bad are the "true" stories that just tell you about a scary experience; this show is mostly like that. The first story is of a teen spending a night "alone" in a haunted house; she's sleeping and starts hearing spooky sounds, and concludes it's really haunted.  (No mention of the production crew "alone" in the house with her.) The second story is about a boy who went swimming and was chased by a strange creature (not an alligator).  The third story "proves" the existence of a ghost using a "talking board" (Ouija).  The participants take a spooky breeze (after a door is opened) and a Ouija message as proof of the legend.  These are pretty typical spooky stories, with genuinely scared witnesses, but no attempt at any scientific inquiry.  As such, they're suitable for telling around a campfire, but don't mistake them for science.  And they're only "true" in the sense that any unsupported eyewitness story is true--though, since this is a Fox show, that's more proof than their news division would need.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

UFO HUNTERS - Hist. - Abductions

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/13/08

The show looks at another 40+ year old case, once again ignores all evidence contrary to the views they come into the case with (also ignoring the advice of their team scientist), and ends up with no evidence worth a damn. If you think I'm sensing a pattern to this show, you're right. In this episode, they talk to the niece of Betty Hill, from the famous Barney and Betty Hill Interrupted Journey case (the first of the UFO abductees). So, again, only hearsay evidence. It's worth noting that at the time of the original case, the psychiatrist treating the couple didn't believe their story was something that had really happened, but rather a manifestation of the strains in their marriage and the difficulties in being a bi-racial couple in the early 1960s. Of course, the experts from UFO Magazine are having none of that. They're sure the case is real, just as they're sure that the foreign object in the thin man's leg (different case) is an alien implant. Heck, they even have their own "expert" surgeon with his own specialized "tests" to prove it. Of course, that expert isn't expert enough to actually remove the implant -- that they leave to a real surgeon. And, of all the amazing results, when the "implant" is examined by a real scientist it stops "broadcasting" (something the earlier expert had pronounced it to be doing) and it turns out to be just a tiny piece of ordinary iron. It doesn't even have an interesting or unusual shape - never mind microchip etchings or moving parts. (For what it's worth, the scientific expert tried to warn the others about this.) Yet, the lead investigator remains convinced that all this is proof of UFOs. In the future, the show might want to consider coming up with theories to fit the evidence, not the other way around. That's the way science works. But from what I've seen so far, there's no way this show will ever stoop to being truly scientific.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MYSTERY HUNTERS - General Review

Discovery Kids - Original Air Date: 2002-present

Everyone who wants to hunt ghosts should be forced to watch this show.  This Canadian kids' show is hosted by Araya and Christina, two average teens who, show after show, demonstrate above-average courage, intelligence, and skepticism.  Often, they visit the same well-known mystery sites and haunts that you see on other shows. Unlike the rest, though, they don't drag along "psychics" or excess crew members to freak out just before the commercial break.  What they do bring is both open minds and a willingness to do rational investigation.  Sometimes, they don't figure out what the root of the case is, but other times they draw very plausible conclusions -- conclusions ignored by higher-end shows aimed at "adults."  I mean, when Christina can -- on a whim -  fake a better-looking photo of an alien than a supposed "eyewitness," how hard can faking an alien photo be?  Back in the Lab, assisting the teens is Doubting Dave, a TV scientist who often reads spooky mail from viewers and offers rational explanations for the phenomena investigated on the show. (Sometimes he'll even teach a magic trick or two.)  The explanations Dave gives are simple, as the show is aimed at kids -- but a lot of so-called ghost busters could listen to them and learn a thing or three. It's also worth noting that I've seen Araya and Christina bravely walk into supposedly "haunted" places that I've seen adults on other shows leave screaming in terror.  So far, neither teen has ever uttered the words, "Dude, run!"  The kids stalwartness makes some of the "professional" investigators on other shows look downright silly.  Whether you're young or old, this show about hauntings and mysteries is worth checking out.


SciFi - Original Air Date: 2002

I like a good ghost story as much as anyone else.  Hell, I love a good ghost story.  What I don't like is ghost stories masquerading as "true" -- and that's what this show seems to be all about.  Over and over, strange and haunted things are turned up, but a scientific eye is never cast on the "evidence."  Mostly, this show seems to be an excuse to put ordinary people and "psychic investigators" in creepy places and try to scare them.  One show featured a bunch of kids out in the woods looking for vortexes and orbs. Know what?  They got scared!  I have advice for all shows of this ilk: never put cameras to discover "evidence" in the hands or people who have no idea what the technology's limitations are.  Again, we get bugs and dust masquerading as "orbs."  Don't blame the kids; they don't know any better.  Heck, they even though it was strange to hear odd noises in the woods at night.  (Clearly, they never lived in the woods.)  One thing I'm noticing more and more is that most of these shows visit the same "haunted" places -- like the vaults in Edinburgh, Scotland -- turn up the same dubious "evidence," and do nothing but grow the mythos these shows thrive on.  Another thing I've noticed is that the "adults" in many of these shows are more cowardly and less rigorous in their "investigations" than the teen hosts of Mystery Hunters.  (See review.)  Unless you have a very high tolerance for baloney, or a crush on host Linda Blair, give this one a wide berth.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Uncanny Radio on the Air

Despite the great Weather-Controlled Snowstorm conspiracy, Uncanny Radio made its premier Broadcast on February 6, 2008 from 8-9 PM (Central time).  We'd like to thank our intrepid engineer, Dave, for braving the drifts to get the episode on the air.  We owe you one, buddy!  We'd also like to thank our special guest, Stan Brown (otherwise known as just Stan!), who recorded this "special edition" show with us beforehand, just in case.  Little did we know that we'd need that backup episode immediately!  Thanks, Stan!

Hopefully, those of you who couldn't catch the broadcast over the air heard it streaming on the internet over WBSD.  A few people reported trouble streaming, and we now believe that to get the stream to work properly you may have to use Internet Explorer (and download a simple add-on).  We're talking with the station about updating their streaming compatibilities, though we suspect this may be another conspiracy to keep UR out of the brainpans of eager listeners!

For those of you who missed the premier, we're hoping to have a podcast available soon.  Watch the Uncanny Radio blog for more info.

Thanks for listening, and we hope you'll join us next week when our guest is British bigfoot hunter Nick Redfern.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

UFO HUNTERS - SciFi - Premier

SciFi Channel - Original Air Date: 2/6/08

I reported last week that there were going to be two shows called UFO Hunters.  By luck or design, the one on the History Channel premiered first -- but only by a week.  This show, from the producers of Ghost Hunters, can probably lay claim to being the "real" UFO Hunters -- the one people hearing the title are expecting to see.  SFUFOH (do differentiate it from HCUFOH) follows the same format as the highly successful Ghost Hunters shows.  The team is composed of NY-SPI (New York Strange Phenomena Investigators).  And like GH, they all have other jobs and they don't take any money for their investigations.  Their jobs tend to be useful to their investigations, like astronomer, and private investigator.  Like GH, the team gets tips for cases, gathers, and then heads out to collect evidence and personal accounts. Like GH, they cover two cases per show.  In this show, they look into a UFO that may have crashed offshore in the Atlantic ocean, and a series of strange lights over the NY/NJ area.  The SF team does a pretty good job of investigating the first report.  The collate reports of a fireball and Navy investigations resulting in lights on the ocean.  (They even dive the ocean looking for a possible meteor.) This leaves only a red flashing beacon unexplained (though it seems likely to me that it was a passing ship).  Unfortunately, because of this one element, and some minor eyewitness contradictions, they mark the case as "unresolved," though it seemed clear to me that they'd nailed it as a fireball using scientific methods.  The second investigation quickly veers from lights in the sky to an "alien abduction" scenario.  And at this point, the show veers off the scientific rails.  Though the team professes not to know what UFOs are or where they come from, they seem to have completely bought into the alien abduction idea--and even have a member who's a hypnotist who often works with these types of cases.  I admire their determination to treat their "witness" respectfully, but I thought his description of what happened to him seemed more like a classic seizure with seizure-induced delusions than a real event.  The investigation on this case seems much less trying to find explanations, and much more about interviewing witnesses.  But as NYC astronomer Neil DeGrass Tyson points out, eyewitness reports are the lowest form of evidence in science.  As a result, this case is not even close to solved.  Let's hope in the future, the show applies more of the methods it used in the first case and less from the second.

UFO HUNTERS - Hist. - Unidentified Submerged Objects

History Channel - Original Air Date: 2/6/07

This episode of History's UFO Hunters takes the gang to Catalina, CA, to look into numerous reports of UFOs and USOs -- no, not the military support group, Unidentified Submerged Objects (that's flying saucer in the water to most of us).  The scientist member of the team is a bit more prominent in this episode -- especially when investigating a sunken plane supposedly downed by a USO -- but it's still eyewitnesses telling stories that  form the bulk of the show's "proof."  There's even a point where one of the sightings is explained by the media as "kid with weather balloons," but of course our investigators aren't having any of that.  (Any UFOlogist worth his salt knows the government and media never tell the truth.)  The most interesting parts of this episode involve a water tank test, proving that an airplane could drift into deeper water over time, and a test showing that a powerful electromagnet placed right next to an internal combustion engine can stop the engine.  All of which proves exactly nothing.  In the end, as in the first week, the investigators find no scientific proof, seem to end up just taking the witnesses at their word, and give credence to really outlandish theories (an underwater UFO base).  The people in Catalina are clearly seeing things, but these investigators aren't shedding any light on what they may be seeing.  It also strikes me that it's odd that in their second episode, these UFO Hunters already seem to have run out of flying objects.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Uncanny Radio: Snowed Out, or Not Snowed Out?

Now's a great time to test your online streaming ability!

Tune in to live streaming on  from 8-9 tonight and see if the Special Emergency Edition of Uncanny Radio made it through the snow storm and onto the air.  Manwolf and Linda don't know for sure, but even if UR is not on, you'll hear some fine Adult Alternative Album music on WBSD.  And, with tonight's practice, you'll know what you have to do next week, when we go live!

Remember to check (and its companion blog) for our upcoming guests and features!

Monday, February 4, 2008

MONSTER QUEST: American Werewolf

History Channel - Original Air Date: January 30, 2008

From a seemingly absurd premise -- that there are wolf-like humanoids haunting the Midwestern US -- this show becomes one of the most interesting and compelling of the Monster Quest series.  (And I'm not just saying this because author Linda Godfrey is a friend of mine.)  Despite an unfortunate lack of physical evidence (the supposed werewolf fur turns out to be from well-known animal), the show brings together a number of eyewitnesses who tell fantastic stories of seeing the "manwolf" -- or, as the show sometimes describes it, the "dogman."  Witnesses come from several walks of life and represent a range of ages.  As they speak, one is struck both by their apparent sincerity, and the utter strangeness of their reports.  But, just when one thinks they're all batty, they start taking polygraph tests.  When the first one passed, I thought, "Well, that's interesting."  But when the rest passed, too, it was downright amazing.  I don't think I've ever seen a monster hunting show that put so many eyewitnesses to the test.  And I've never seen a show where all the participants passed the polygraph.  The monster hunting world is fraught with fakers and attention seekers -- but the people in this show don't seem to fall into those categories.  The science on the show is quite good, with a bit of hypnotic regression being the only really dodgy bit.  Usually, when I'm done watching a "true" monster show, there's always a spot where I think, "Why didn't they check this part out?"  But here, the only thing they could have done more than they did was polygraph the multiple-sighting hunter.  Of course, he may have been too busy beating the bushes for the scientist with the trank gun.  And having a hunter with a trank gun on the trail of the beast was such a good move, that one of my friends called after the show and asked, "Why didn't they do that on the other shows?"  Why, indeed?  As the last show for this season, hopefully American Werewolf points the way for high-quality Monster Quests to come. And for the record, neither Linda nor I have ever seen the manwolf in person.  But we'll keep looking.

IS IT REAL? Ghosts

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005

This show examines several haunted locations and suggests -- through scientific experiment -- that hauntings may be more about human psychology than the supernatural. Subjects experience spooky feelings in a series of underground chambers -- but the feelings seem to have more to do with the actual size and shapes of the rooms than with any spirits. A psychic investigates a house he has no prior knowledge of and pretty much strikes out on finding the house's supposed ghost. (He does come close on the manner of death -- choking is a fairly common way to die -- but he misses completely on the age and sex of the victim and other salient details.) The show also shows a film of a supposed ghost in a junkyard, and then photos of "orbs" and "mists," and "vortexes of light." Skeptics then demonstrate how easily the ghost film could be hoaxed or recreated, how orbs are most commonly dust, and how other effects can be camera problems or operator errors (camera straps, stray hair, etc.). The theory is put forth that many of the people taking spirit photographs don't know or understand the technological limitations of their equipment. (And as a photographer, I can attest this to be true.) Historical ghost photographs, once believed but now seen as obvious fakes, are reviewed briefly, as is their history. EVPs are listened to, and faces are seen in photos -- but it seems most likely that both of these things are the result of human pattern-seeking. (Though they don't say this on the show, in the same way that groups of stars become Great Bears and hunters.) Skeptic James Randi sums up by urging people to look at the evidence for ghosts -- and concluding they won't find much there.

IS IT REAL? Ghost Ships

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005

The show tackles some common sea myths in this episode, including the haunting of the Queen Mary and the ghost ship Mary Celeste.  Tour guides from the QM talk of their spooky experiences aboard the ship, and then demonstrate how a "spirit" can be detected with dowsing rods.  A skeptic then demonstrates how easily a rod can be subconsciously manipulated.  Much time is spent talking about the perils of the sea and humanity's relative powerlessness in the face of the ocean.  This explains why some superstitions and myths have grown up around the water: to give humanity a sense of control, even though there is no actual control over nature.  Strange sounds heard by divers on a wreck are suggested to be whale song or other natural underwater noises, distorted by the ocean and heard imperfectly by human ears--which are not built to hear under the water.  In examining the Mary Celeste mystery, the show points out that some of the myths believed to be "true" about the story are actually taken from a fictional account of the voyage penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  The show suggests that possibly the ship's occupants left the ship to escape toxic alcohol fumes, but their lifeboat became separated, and the ship sailed on without anyone aboard.  As usual, a scientific and skeptical point of view dominates the show.  And, as usual, it's hard to argue with.

Friday, February 1, 2008


SciFi Channel - Original Air Date: January, 2008

This show has been on for a few weeks now, and it still seems to be struggling to get its legs.  The levels of "proof" for a haunting on GHI seem to be lower than those for the original Ghost Hunters.  Perhaps the producers and investigators are reluctant to completely debunk haunted locales with a history stretching back hundreds or even thousands of years.  (I've noted the increasing tendency to declare places "haunted" in the original show as well.)  The other problem is that the new show lacks the force of Jason and Grant holding it together.  Rob and Andy do a good job, but the chemistry isn't nearly the same.  Also, the show seems to be quickly falling into a recognizable pattern.  Next time you see it, expect to see: Rob and Andy will cleverly debunk things (and then not mention those debunks in the Reveal); Donna and Shannon will have creepy feelings and get scared while in some spooky dark place; Brian and Barry will see shadows and movement and hear something mysterious (this was Brian's job on the original show, too).  And the whole crew will express initial "skepticism" but turn out pleased at how many "genuine" experiences they've had.  I do have hopes this show will improve, but many of the cast members need to be more truly skeptical and less skittish.

UFO HUNTERS - The UFO Before Roswell

History Channel - Original Air Date: January 30, 2008

This is the first of the two UFO Hunter shows (another one, produced by the Ghost Hunters' producer premiers on SciFi soon). The publishers of UFO Magazine make up the investigative team for this show. A "new lead" (though what the lead is or how they got it isn't explained) takes the team to Puget Sound in search of "slag" dumped from a UFO in 1947, a couple of weeks before Roswell. Witnesses claim that the falling slag damaged a boat, killed a dog, and broke a boy's arm. Team members go diving and prospecting for the slag (after 60 years). There was also a plane explosion 40 days after the reported incident, which UFOlogists are trying to connect to the UFO sighting. With all the eyewitnesses to this supposed incident dead, investigating this report seems even more of a stretch than most UFO stories. It struck me very quickly that it would have been useful to have a real geologist on the team, to tell UFO slag from unusual rocks. They could also use a good skeptic, as everyone involved seems like a true believer. And all their speculation seems more like fiction than like science. At the end of the first episode, the leader of the group proclaims that 90% of all UFO reports are bunk. Lets hope that when the crew encounters one of those cases, they're brave enough to proclaim it. On this case, they weren't. Instead, they just added to the mythology that makes actual scientific investigation of UFOs so difficult.